Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 9, 2009

Sermon on Romans 15:4-13

The second in our series of midweek Advent meditations on Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Understand the Scriptures

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”  Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”  And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Back when I was a vicar in North Carolina, I had occasion to listen to the “Dr. Laura” show now and again.  She’s still on the radio, though I haven’t heard her for a while, and after one particular show, I vowed not to listen to her anymore.

A woman called in who was dealing with serious family trauma.  Her daughter had been murdered.  And the alleged murderer wasn’t only out free, but he was living in the same area as the mom and there was contact between them.  Anger, fear, depression, and frustration ravaged this mother.  She wanted justice, but it didn’t seem to be coming.  She wanted vengeance on the man she thought murdered her daughter.  She wanted comfort and peace, hope and joy, in a time of darkness.  But she couldn’t find it.  She wrapped up by telling Dr. Laura that she had been reading the Bible, especially the Psalms, looking for comfort from God.

Finishing her tragic tale, the mom naturally wanted some advice from Dr. Laura.  And Dr. Laura gave it.  Just about the first words out of her lips were, “There’s really no hope or comfort I can give or offer you.”  For all her education and training, for all her experience and success, Dr. Laura is really just a dope.  A dummy.  A dolt.  And for this woman she was the exact opposite of helpful.  She was wrong.

There is always hope and comfort to be given, in every circumstance and situation.  And you’ll understand that if you understand the Scriptures.  Tonight, Paul offers another piece of Advent understanding as he helps us understand the Bible, the Scriptures, those things written in the past, the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.  The first and last verses of our lesson silence Dr. Laura and those like her forever:  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope….May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In those two verses and in the verses in-between Paul aids our Advent understanding of the Scriptures.

As usual, you’re probably saying, “But Dr. Laura said things I’d never say.”  And I counter, “Really?”  How many of your conversations are salted with the Word of God?  How much advice do you give based on the words of the Bible?  And I’m not talking about your conversations in Bible class or with your pastor about theology.  I’m talking about every-day type stuff.  How often is the Bible your first source for everything?

And what about when you receive counsel and advice and the answers are guided by and based upon Scripture?  Do you sort of inwardly (or maybe even outwardly) roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how is that really going to help?”  Or maybe it’s when you find yourself turning to the Bible as if it were some magic talisman, “If I just hold it in my hands, or read some of these words long enough, then everything will just magically work out for the better?”  That’s not what the Bible is.  It’s not some idol to be worshiped and adored.  Nor do I want you to gain the impression that it’s just some manual or rule-book for life.  The Bible is so much more than that, and listen to how Paul helps you understand that.

Everything written in the Bible serves a purpose, from beginning to end, from Genesis to genealogies, from Chronicles to Corinthians, from Haggai to Hebrews; in other words, every single word recorded is recorded for you.  It’s recorded to encourage you and give you hope.  So that you can endure.  It’s recorded to give, to actually give and create a spirit of unity and acceptance between family members, between church members, uniting the world under one banner – Christ!  It’s recorded to fill you with joy and peace.  It’s recorded so that you don’t just have hope, but so that your hope overflows.

Because these aren’t just old words written by long-ago men.  They aren’t just historical records.  They’re the Spirit’s words.  They’re His power.  They’re His testimony.  But the Spirit doesn’t testify about Himself.  He testifies about Christ, the One to follow, the One to trust.  Jesus Himself said it, These are the Scriptures that testify about me. Understand that.  Believe that.  The Scriptures are the message of Christ, Christ who accepted you, Christ who came to serve the Jews to keep the promises made, and to show mercy to non-Jews, to bring both into His Kingdom, as Paul began this letter to the Romans, I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes! And that power is the Spirit’s power, the power that causes you to overflow with hope because the Scriptures are always and constantly, from beginning to end, in every jot and tittle, testifying about Christ and His Advent work – the Hope-Bringer!  That’s why Paul kept quoting those Old Testament prophecies that encouraged not just Jews, but non-Jews to praise God, to rejoice and sing, because as the Spirit spoke through Isaiah:  The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.

Paul wants you to understand that.  There is hope and comfort for you in every circumstances and situation of life.  There’s more hope and comfort than you can imagine.  There is more hope and comfort for you than in any call-in show, justice-system, doctor, psychologist, food, drug, relationship, or whatever you want to look to for hope and comfort.    It’s found in Scripture, because testified to and found in Scripture is Christ, the promise-keeping, mercy-showing Savior about whom the Scriptures say so plainly:  He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers. And what Mary sang so poetically, Paul described so doctrinally:  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. To all the Dr. Laura’s we say, “We have hope.”  Because we have the Scriptures, and everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hopeAmen.

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